Birthday: December 25, 1878
Nationality: American, Swiss
Died At Age: 62
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Also Known As: Louis-Joseph Chevrolet
Born Country: Switzerland
Born in: La Chaux-de-Fonds, Canton of Neuchâtel, Switzerland
Famous as: Founder of the Chevrolet Motor Car Company
Spouse/Ex-: Suzanne Treyvoux
mother: Marie-Anne Angéline
children: Charles Louis and Alfred Joseph
Died on: June 6, 1941
place of death: Detroit
Louis Joseph Chevrolet was a Swiss-American car racer who designed the first Chevrolet automobile and also founded the ‘Frontenac Motor Corporation’. He learned the basics of mechanics from his father, a watchmaker, and as a teenager used to build, repair, and race bicycles. He was a strong teenager and became a champion bicycle racer after he tailored bicycle gear ratios to take advantage of his strength. His passion for the automobile found him eagerly apprenticed to several carmakers. Working for a prestigious automobile company, he was hired as a driver of the Fiat auto racing team, and after several victories became a celebrity. He rose to fame as a daring automobile racer who displayed little concern for his own safety when the outcome of a race was in doubt. His driving skills attracted the attention of the auto executive, William Durant, and the two men combined their talents to form the Chevrolet Motor Company. With little formal education and a vast knowledge about automobiles, he designed a stylish six-cylinder touring car, which proved that his design abilities matched his racing skills. After professional differences with Durant, he left the company and became a successful independent designer of racecars. Although automobiles were his enduring passion, he also enjoyed speedboat racing, trapshooting and golf. He was a motor racing legend whose accomplishments left a huge impression on the American automotive industry.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born on Christmas Day, December 25, 1878, in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, to Joseph Felician Chevrolet, a watch and clockmaker, and his wife, Angelina Marie Chevrolet. He was the second child of the six children — four sons and two daughters — of his parents.
When he was around six years old, the family moved to Beaune, a small town in the Burgundy region of France. When he was a child, his father taught him basic mechanical skills and stressed the importance of precision in the manufacture of machine parts.
As a teenager, he developed an interest in bicycle racing and became an apprentice in a bicycle shop. He started repairing broken bicycles with the help of repair manuals in his spare time.
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In 1898, he got a job with the ‘Mors Auto Company’ and was sent to an auto dealership in Montreal, Canada, the following year. He worked as a chauffeur-mechanic for six months and then moved to Brooklyn, New York.
In the United States, he worked briefly for a fellow Swiss immigrant's engineering company, and then moved to the Brooklyn operations of the French car manufacturer ‘DeDion Bouton Motorette Company’. There he was given the opportunity to be a substitute racecar driver for ‘Fiat auto racing team’ in New York City.
Soon he established a reputation as a race car mechanic and driver in the United States and became a celebrity after several wins. He left Fiat to work for William C. Durant, dubbed as the father of ‘General Motors’ who gave him the job to design Buick concept cars which later led the ‘Buick Racing Team’ to many victories.
In spite of having little formal education, he learned car design and started designing his own engine for a new car in 1909. He built an overhead valve six-cylinder engine in his own machine shop on Grand River Boulevard in Detroit, Michigan.
On November 3, 1911, he co-founded the prestigious ‘Chevrolet Motor Car Company’ with Durant and two other investment partners, William Little, and Dr. Edwin R. Campbell.
But when differences arose between him and Durant over the car's design, he sold Durant his share in the company, in 1915, and moved on to found McLaughlin's Company in Canada for building Chevrolets.
In 1916, he, along with his brothers, founded the ‘Frontenac Motor Corporation’ to make racing parts for Ford Model Ts. But he was not an astute businessman and soon the company failed.
Later on he worked for the Stutz Automobile Company, Indianapolis, and also established an unsuccessful aircraft factory. In 1934, he became a consultant at the Chevrolet division of General Motors, where he remained until he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and was forced to retire in 1938.
In 1905, in his first automobile race, he defeated the great American driver Barney Oldfield, and thereafter he set records on every important track in the United States. During his career on the famous brick track he won 10 races and an additional 27 major races elsewhere.
In 1911, he co-founded the Chevrolet Motor Company with Durant, and even with little formal education, he designed and built the first Chevrolet automobile. He also established the ‘Frontenac Motor Corporation’ to build high-performance engine heads.
Awards & Achievements
In 1990, he was inducted into the ‘National Sprint Car Hall of Fame’.
He was named to the ‘International Motorsports Hall of Fame’ in 1992.
In 1995, he was inducted into the ‘Motorsports Hall of Fame of America’.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1905, he married Suzanne Treyvoux. The couple was blessed with two sons, Charles Louis and Alfred Joseph.
He died on June 6, 1941, in Detroit and was buried in the Holy Cross and Saint Joseph Cemetery in Indianapolis, Indiana.